Thailand: Yellow-Clad Muslims Express Support for Monarchy

BenarNews staff
Bangkok
2020-11-10
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201110-TH-Sheikhul-islam-monarchy-650.jpg About 6,000 Thai Muslims participate at an assembly in Bangkok in support of the monarchy, Nov. 10, 2020.
BenarNews

About 6,000 members of Thailand’s Muslim minority – many clad in royalist yellow – turned out in Bangkok on Tuesday to show their support for and loyalty to the monarchy at an event hosted by the kingdom’s top Islamic leader.

Critics on social media had blasted the assembly organized by the office of the Sheikhul Islam, saying it was mixing religion with politics. But organizers insisted it was not about politics, even though a student-led pro-democracy protest movement has been calling in recent months for a change in government and reforms of the royal institution.

“Event organizers see that there are disagreements in democracy. Religious organizations must maintain political neutrality,” the Sheikhul Islam said in a statement issued on Nov. 8 about the “Muslim Power to Protect the Nation, Religion and Monarchy” assembly. “Muslims have a duty to protect the nation, religion and the monarchy.”

On Tuesday, Sheikhul Islam director Aziz Pitakkumpol told attendees that the royals were a pillar of the nation.

“This institution has helped Thais of all ethnicities and religions to live in harmony,” said Aziz, the leader of the nation’s top Islamic organization. “Anyone can practice their religion, especially Muslims who have benefited from the monarchy.”

While Buddhism is not the official religion of Thailand, King Maha Vajiralongkorn and all royals are Buddhist as are about 64 million of the nation’s 69.4 million people. Muslims, by comparison, number 2.9 million and many live in a border region known as the Deep South, which has been gripped for decades by an armed separatist insurgency.

Police Maj. Gen. Surin Palarae, the secretary-general of the Central Islamic Council of Thailand, said Tuesday’s assembly was not political – but he and other Muslims were indebted to the royals because they had ensured fairness.

“All Thai kings have performed the role of faith defender. Islam is about showing gratitude, especially to religious supporters,” Surin said. “Muslims should pray for peace, for society and the country.”

Anan Wanaeloh, the Central Islamic Council’s deputy secretary, compared Muslims in Thailand, who live freely despite being a minority group, to Rohingya Muslims who have been forced from their homes in Myanmar and have ended up in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

“If not for the monarchy, we might not have a place to live,” Anan said.

Prasan Sricharoen, a deputy director of the Sheikhul Islam’s senior staff, noted that King Vajiralongkorn’s father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, had strongly supported Thai Muslims by appointing directors to Islamic organizations and judges to Islamic courts.

“He also initiated the translation of the Quran into the Thai language. He was the first king in the world who saw the importance of the Quran,” Prasan said.

Open letter

The assembly occurred a few days after more than 100 Muslims released an open letter to Sheikhul Islam calling for the organization to cancel the event and stay free from politics.

“We should not use the name of the Sheikhul Islam,” said the letter posted Friday on Facebook.  “The plan to hold this event should be reviewed to protect Islam.”

After the assembly, Saromon Rondin, a Muslim researcher who lives in Bangkok, questioned the Sheikhul Islam’s effort to protect the monarchy.

“One of the missions of the Sheikhul Islam is to be a representative of Muslims in Thailand and to be responsible for something intangible such as faith. Therefore, the work of sustaining the Muslim faith must be made clear,” he told BenarNews. “They should not act as a leader to dishonor the faith.”

Imron Sarowat, a Muslim who lives in Bangkok, had similar concerns about the assembly.

“Political views of Muslims are as diverse as Muslims in Thailand. If the leader is doing this, it means that he is taking a side and abandoning a group with a different view,” he told BenarNews.

Also on Tuesday, King Vajiralongkorn wrote messages of national unity and love during a visit to the northeast of the country, according to Reuters news service.

“We all love and care for each other. Take care of the country, help each other protect our country with goodness for prosperity and protect Thainess,” the monarch wrote in a message to the governor of Udon Thani province.

Mariyam Ahmad in Pattani, Thailand, and Kunnawut Boonreak in Chiang Mai, Thailand, contributed to this report.

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